MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Shyanne Sellers scanned the court, looking for a teammate to inbound the ball to. When she couldn’t find an open Terp, she bounced the ball off Makira Cook’s back and inbounded it to herself. Sellers then got the ball back and leaped up in the air for an easy layup.
After failing to make it past the quarterfinals of last year’s Big Ten Tournament, No. 5 Maryland women’s basketball (25-5, 16-3 Big Ten) redeemed itself Friday night with a total team effort, beating Illinois (22-10, 11-8 Big Ten) 73-58 to advance.
The Terps will take on No. 7 Iowa in the Big Ten tournament semifinal on Saturday.
“Tonight they made the game look really easy,” coach Brenda Frese said. “I even thought defensively they were really connected and really happened in this month of February-March with the schedule that they’ve you know really grown.”
The opening minutes of the game were dominated by defense. Maryland and Illinois threw everything they had at each other, forcing bad shots.
In the first five minutes the Terps shot 3-for-9 from the field and 0-for-3 from behind the arc. The Fighting Illini weren’t any better, making just one field goal.
But both offenses finally picked up in the final minutes of the quarter.
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Illinois momentarily jumped into the lead, but Maryland was able to finish the first quarter in front 20-18 thanks to a scoring outburst from freshman Bri McDaniel.
McDaniel positioned herself outside to arc to shoot but after she couldn’t find the open look, she bounded toward the basket and pulled up for a jumper instead. She had seven points in the opening frame and finished the game with nine.
“It felt great, just knowing that I can contribute to the team and to the win, just love being out there with them,” McDaniel said. “Coach B was telling me ‘good job,’ I knew I was doing something good.”
Maryland continued to build its lead in the second quarter with consistent offense and reinvigorated defense, outscoring Illinois 21-7.
Frese’s team took away scoring opportunities by forcing eight turnovers. When the Fighting Illini didn’t lose the ball, the Terps flustered them with aggressive defense, getting in their faces and continuing to force bad shots.
Illinois shot just 27.3 percent in the second frame, allowing Maryland to pull ahead 41-25 at the half.
When the teams returned to the court after halftime, the Fighting Illini pushed back and made the first two field goals of the frame. However, the Terps didn’t lose focus and continued to control the game.
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When bringing the ball up the court, Sellers took her time calling the plays and let her team move into position. By slowing the game down, Maryland forced Illinois to play at its tempo and maintained a double-digit advantage.
But after a few possessions slowing the game down, the Terps kicked their speed up a notch, launching the ball down the court and quickly charging into the paint.
The shifts in tempo kept Illinois guessing on defense, preventing the third quarter comeback the team needed to stay in the game and giving Freese’s squad a 60-46 lead at the end of the frame.
Maryland continued to control the game in the fourth quarter, starting the frame by forcing a shot clock violation. The team’s connection on defense transferred to the offensive side of the ball with 20 assists throughout the game, the Terps’ highest mark in five games.
Maryland’s ability to share the ball led to eight of 11 players that saw the court scoring and six players notching eight or more points as the Terps coasted into a rematch against the Hawkeyes in the semifinals, who they split the regular season series with.
“We’re all very capable basketball players, we know the right play from the wrong,” Abby Meyers said. “Sometimes we make the wrong play still, but it’s a constant learning process for us.”